Increasing Productivity by Removing Distractions

By Alex Vorobieff

I wanted to hammer out some creative projects but I was having trouble finding the creative frequency in my office. As I looked around, there were too many distractions on the desk.

Something had to change.

As I cleaned, I looked at every item and asked: “Do I use it? Does it provide value?”

I’ve learned over the years that if you want to really clean things and organize them then you must be brutal and continually ask if each item is of real value for achieving objectives. If you’re too soft, you’ll have a bunch of junk and distractions stacked on shelves and in drawers.

As I combed the desk I came across two items: the business card rolodex and the telephone.

I asked myself, “Do I use the rolodex?” I assumed it was necessary. Sure, I occasionally put business cards in there, but I typically scan the ones I want to put in my database or scrape the info from an e-mail. Do I really need this antiquated filing system on my desk, taking up room, only to house stale information that could easily be found through LinkedIn or Google?

I decided to eliminate the rolodex. But first I would go through each card, and again that was painful. I asked when was the last time I actually dug through it searching for information. I couldn’t remember.


Then I looked at the landline phone. I never use it.

People always call my cell phone. My landline is not printed on my business card anymore. The quality of the VOIP phone service had been spotty. Do I need the phone? Do I really need it?

I use Skype for phone calls with a USB headset and have as good or better service as the phone, at lower rates per minute — plus, Skype has video, the ability to share screenshots, the ability to store more contacts and search them, and it’s very easy to use (there’s no complicated manual needed to figure out how to do a three-way conference call, for example).

Plus, the cost of a handset is ridiculous and I always have to store the manual somewhere. The phone is gone — and that’s time and money saved, as well as more space and one less distraction from the objective of generating value. Until that moment, I had never questioned the assumption of whether I needed it.

I also scanned all the loose papers on the desk. Each document was immediately copied onto my three computers and accessible anywhere in the world through Dropbox. The characters on each scanned page were indexed and could be searched using Google Desktop. I didn’t need to worry where it was on my desk, or in which file folder on my computer.

As I went through the entire desk, things started to go away as each item was questioned. How does this relate to the ultimate goal of the company? What’s the reason this is in my workspace? Every action and every thing must support the company’s ultimate goal — and that includes the clutter in our offices.

When the purge was over, I was left with an open workspace, with every item serving a purpose related to creating value. The distractions were gone. I was able to hammer out two projects that evening with a clear mind.

On the way home that night, I thought, “What else is eating up space and time in my day?” What reports are prepared that are no longer useful, take too much energy or could be easily accessed online when needed?

Everything must have a purpose related to the ultimate objective of the enterprise. Everything is something we have to receive, asses, and ultimately decide upon — which all requires energy. I believe using your data and financials are important for making informed decisions, but it is easy to produce too much.

What is of value today?

Reports that were of value before may no longer be needed as often — or the reason for the report may be forgotten. When you receive a report, ask yourself, what purpose does it serve? Is it of value to me or someone else? Is the time and energy used to create this worth it?

The technology of today has made creating information and reports easier — but ease of creation is not the same as creating value.

Alex Vorobieff provides fractional CFO services to companies that want to use their financial information to make informed business decisions. Check out his company’s web site and his related blog.
Originally published: Sep 20, 2011

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